The importance of back benching

A junior law firm associate asks for ways she can distinguish herself among a highly competitive class of young associates.  Here is one:  learn how to be a "backbencher."  The term refers to a Member of Parliament or a legislator who does not hold governmental office and is not a so-called spokesperson in the Opposition.  In most parliamentary systems, backbenchers individually do not have much power to influence government policy.  However, they are important in providing services to their constituents and in relaying the opinions of their constituents.  Here is how the concept could work in a law firm setting:

  • Listen and let others talk.  Most junior law firm associates like to express their ideas verbally even if not thought through.  Do not feel compelled to be that person to stay competitive.
  • Consider writing your thoughts down before speaking them.  If you have a good (or any) idea, you may want to flesh it out on paper before approaching your client (the partner).  Anticipate points that could be raised against your idea and deal with them before pontificating.
  • Let others get or take credit (even if your idea).  Have the attitude that there is no pride of authorship.  Demonstrate that you are truly a team player just trying to obtain the best result for your client.  It should not matter who originally came up with the idea.
  • Observe (and learn from) others.  Notice how others, especially partners, operate. Observe habits you want to emulate and those you do not.
  • Relish your role as support.  There will be plenty of time to be in the limelight.  For now, recognize and appreciate your role, which is to help make provide partners look good.  Not of all the work or the projects will be glamorous.  Do not be so anxious to get on a call or meet the client.  Perform your role as supporting cast to the best of your ability and you will have plenty of chances to "sit up front" later.

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